I noticed my 2 1/2 year old walking around the back yard the other day with a small rectangular rock nestled in the palm of his hand. I watched as he excitedly moved it around as he energetically bounded around the lawn, obviously in his own world. I wondered where his imagination had taken him. Then I heard the giveaway: “Boop! Boop!” He was holding the rock out, extending his arm toward a ride along car in the yard. “My boop-boop!” He said as he looked up with a huge grin of satisfaction, having clearly just set the alarm on his toy car with his own personal key fob.
“We’re building a home up the street.”
It felt like a lie to give that explanation over and over to the strangers who have become our new friends, because for the longest time, the truth was that nothing was being built.
I read a fascinating book this summer. (And by read, I once again mean that I listened on Audible.) So fascinating, in fact, that I keep thinking and talking about it months later.
The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way* by investigative journalist Amanda Ripley, seemed to take many of the things we argue over on the topic of education in the United States, and turned it all on its head. (*Affiliate link.)
You’ve likely seen the video by now. (It’s inching toward one million views.) The toddler with those sweet cheeks lights up as the experimenter passes the toy across the table. The toddler plays with the parts as he’s seen the experimenter do. His eyes are wide, his smile even wider. Then the “emoter” comes in.
I grew up hearing the stories. How Grandma and Grandpa started out in a new state with a dog, a truck, a baby, and $10 in their pockets. The mischief and mayhem my dad and his brothers created, often at the expense of each other or their sisters, and much to the chagrin of their saintly mother. The life-threatening illness at my birth, and the miracle of my recovery. They were like colorful marbles in a kindergartner’s pocket. I loved them and treasured them, but hadn’t really given much thought to what research might say about their significance.
As I have examined both personally and professionally what makes for a strong family, I have been surprised several times to find research linking positive personal and family outcomes to families knowing the stories and histories of their families.
As an article in the New York Times stated in a review of some of the research, ” After a while, a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
Erica Layne of Let Why Lead expanded on this same topic recently, sharing the many benefits of family stories for kids.
The idea that something as simple as story-telling can build stronger kids seems hard to believe. As I said, it was something of a pleasant surprise when I stumbled on some of the research. But it shouldn’t have been surprising at all. My Master’s thesis was on the topic of ethnic identity. The review of the literature in that area is very clear: Knowing where you come from and what you’re about is correlated with almost every positive outcome you can measure. It makes sense that those benefits are not limited to knowing your ethnic story, but extend more personally, to knowing your family’s story and your own.
With this information on my mind, I was excited when Beryl Young offered to share a guest post with you about how to capture your family’s stories and preserve them in a variety of forms. It’s something feel I took for granted in my own childhood, and hope to become more intentional about with my own children.
It’s such an unassuming cover. White with black words. The Book with No Pictures* by BJ Novak. (Yes, that BJ Novak). (*affiliate link)
The kids didn’t look impressed.
“We’re going to trick Dad into reading that tonight,” I whispered to my oldest, as I bustled about the kitchen making dinner.
“What? Why do we need to trick him?”
“Just read a little, then you’ll see.” Continue reading